SLAM Top 50: Russell Westbrook, No. 5

The definitive ranking of the NBA's best players for 2015-16.
by October 19, 2015

As you get older, when you’ve started to see everything, this is the kind of thing that keeps you going—when someone wants something more than you’ll ever want anything at all, and that someone probably can’t get that something, but he breaks himself in half anyway to see if he can pull it off.

Maybe if this were happening at a YMCA, it would be funny or stupid or sad. But when it happens at the highest level of athletic achievement, maybe, you think, you’re watching something that validates a thing much bigger than us.

Why does this person want this thing more than his body can allow for?

The answer is either, always, one of these two things: insanity, or the hope that you will live forever. But you don’t think that when you watch it.

You think, shit, I’m never going to see something like what Russell Westbrook is doing right now ever again.

That’s the feeling you got when he dragged a team full of borderline starters to the brink of the playoffs after his whole team was smote by God shortly after the season started for reasons still unknown.

This will seem a lot funnier in a few years when we only vaguely remember a couple of these names, but Russell Westbook almost lugged a team that started Dion Waiters, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Andre Roberson with him to the playoffs last year. The bench was even worse.

He needed to win the last three games by himself.

He won two of them. The Thunder didn’t win two of them. Russell Westbrook won two of them. He had 42.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists in those contests.

Everyone just got out of the way. What were they going to do? Take the ball away from the guy who was better than anyone else on the floor, appeared incapable of exhaustion, and—deep down, admit it, the four of you—wanted it more than you?

He wanted it more than anyone in the NBA last year. He was, to put it bluntly, absolutely mortifying. If the ref swapped out the ball with a baby at halftime by mistake—don’t ask how this would happen—he would’ve tomahawked the baby if someone told him this would get him into the playoffs.

He didn’t get into the playoffs.

He was on a mission unlike anybody since—please do not strike me down, for I know not the consequence of invoking thy name—Michael Jordan and the mission failed and it was tragic and it was like the Odyssey and now he’s back and the player that is supposed to be better than him on the same team is back with him and, all in all, you should absolutely terrified if you are not a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

For a few months there, the whole point of basketball changed from “play basketball” to “stop Russell Westbrook from running us over.” Now add Kevin Durant to that.

Get scared.

Who knows if he can do it again? Who knows if anybody can sustain like this? It was maniacal behavior.

Usually when this happens—when teams devolve into letting one player just ISO them to a slow, miserable death and they don’t even know it’s happened until they’ve woken up years later, covered in Carmelo—teams are lulled to sleep by 17-foot, mid-range jumpshots.

Russell Westbrook does not do this. He will not go jumpshooting quietly into the night. He’s not good enough at it. He will barrel into your team like he is trying to roll 300. He will go until he breaks.

And he may break.

But all I can say is this: If they don’t win the whole thing this year, Kevin Durant is probably moving to Washington, DC, or to Brooklyn or to somewhere that else does not trade James Harden. He will just leave. He will.

And already, national media is talking about if the two can coexist again now that Russell Westbrook has tasted the sweet nectar of never passing the ball. Already, people are talking about how he’s going to have to take the back seat, like he’s the little brother again, and like he wasn’t the scariest player in the NBA in a half-decade last year.

Already, they’re saying he’s going to have to defer to the better player, Kevin Durant.

Already, they’re wondering how he’ll fit in a system now that he has a coach who doesn’t want it to be like last year, who has a plan that involves Russell Westbrook being something else again, who isn’t going to hand him the keys to the space ship and say, “Fly us into the meteorite, you crazy bastard.”

Already, there’s a mountain of shit and detritus and other entirely invented controversy for Russell Westbrook.

Already, there’s stuff to piss this man off.

Here’s a fun stat: Russell Westbrook averaged 28.9 point and 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in games before he received a technical last year.

After he got a technical, he averaged almost six more points and 1.5 more rebounds per game.

Do not piss off Russell Westbrook. Do not anger the Gods. Do not get in the way.

Russell Westbrook might not just be the best player on his team this year. He might be the best player in the League. Nobody is saying it.

He should already be pissed off.

You should savor it.

You should duck when he comes towards you. You should watch the hell out. But he is doing something important.

You should savor it.


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 8
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 10
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 9
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 8
40 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
39 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
38 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
37 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 9
36 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 10
35 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 6
34 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 9
33 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 8
31 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
30 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
29 Draymond Green Warriors PF 6
28 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 5
27 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 4
26 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 6
25 Tim Duncan Spurs C 5
24 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 7
23 Al Horford Hawks C 4
22 Paul George Pacers SF 5
21 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
20 Kevin Love Cavs PF 4
19 Dwight Howard Rockets C 3
18 Jimmy Butler Bulls SG 3
17 Klay Thompson Warriors SG 2
16 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 6
15 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 5
14 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 2
13 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 4
12 John Wall Wizards PG 4
11 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 3
10 LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs PF 3
9 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 1
8 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
7 Chris Paul Clippers PG 3
6 James Harden Rockets SG 1
5 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 2

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.